On his way to Baltimore on Thursday night, Steve Smith got a phone call from New England head coach Bill Belichick who told the free agent wide receiver that he wanted him to play for the Patriots and catch passes from Tom Brady.
The reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks also called and Smith said the San Diego Chargers — coached by Mike McCoy, his former passing game coordinator in Carolina — made him a contract offer. But as Smith pondered a move for the first time in his 13-year NFL career, he concluded that there was no need to make any more visits after Baltimore.
"I really felt like after sitting here that this is the place that I felt would best fit me, and they convinced me that I would fit in here very well," Smith said just moments after signing his name to a Ravens' three-year, $11 million contract. "... It's not really of value how many other teams were in the mix. The part and the thing that's the most important is I found a home that seems to want me, and I wanted them."
Smith spent Thursday night and most of Friday meeting with team officials, including general manager Ozzie Newsome, head coach John Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and wide receivers coach Bobby Engram. The Ravens were able to close the deal with the five-time Pro Bowl selection before Smith could leave the team facility and get on a plane to Massachusetts, where he was scheduled to meet with Belichick and other Patriots' officials on Monday.
Smith's new contract includes a $3.5 million signing bonus, a 2014 base salary of $1 million, a 2015 base salary of $3 million and a 2016 base salary of $3 million, according to sources. The deal also includes a $1 million, 60-percent playtime one-time incentive clause.
"Steve is a Ravens-style football player," Harbaugh said. "He always has been in our eyes. It's just that he's been playing for another team. … The last two days have given all of us with the Ravens an opportunity to get to know him on another level, and now, we're even more impressed. We're looking forward to working together and competing together."
Capping a productive day, the Ravens also re-signed middle linebacker Daryl Smith, filling another of their roster holes. But the addition of Steve Smith was clearly the headliner move with how much attention has been on the franchise's search for a receiver.
In 13 NFL seasons, Smith has caught 836 passes for 12,197 yards and 67 touchdowns. He will turn 35 in May and he's coming off a season in which his catch total (64), yardage (745) and yards per catch (11.6) numbers sagged. But the Ravens, who have been searching for another target for quarterback Joe Flacco, felt that Smith was a great fit. He gives the Ravens' offense a tough, veteran presence that it lacked last season after trading Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers.
"I can tell you this: I'm not Anquan Boldin," Smith said. "I respect the heck out of 'Q,' and what 'Q' brings to the table is what 'Q' brings to the table. I'm Steve Smith, and what I bring to the table as a Baltimore Raven, I have to earn that, and my time on the field will display what I bring to the table. My comparison to Anquan … we play similar games; we want to win and we go all-out. But we're also individuals, and so I'm not here to replace anyone. I'm here to be myself."
Smith, who has averaged 75 catches and six touchdowns per season since the 2005 campaign, became available after an ugly divorce from the Panthers, who released him Thursday. His contentious relationship with Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman reportedly played a part in the decision, as did his age, price tag — he had a $7 million salary cap hit for 2014 — and outspoken and fiery nature on and off the field.
However, the Ravens are embracing all that Smith brings, believing that their offense, which swooned to 29th in the NFL last season, could use an injection of toughness and swagger. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who signed off on the deal after his getting his traditional Friday haircut, called Smith "one of the top competitors in the NFL."
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"Everything seemed to gel, and Coach Harbaugh was excellent," said Smith, who hadn't yet spoken to Flacco or running back Ray Rice but said that he was looking forward to doing so. "We talked about a lot of things, and the one thing that they said that was consistent was, 'We want you to be yourself.' That was good, that was very encouraging. I enjoyed that."
Smith called Flacco a "top-notch quarterback" and expressed excitement about learning a Kubiak offense, which he's long admired from afar. His addition certainly gives the Ravens one of the most formidable receiving groups that they've had with Smith joining Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, Marlon Brown and pass-catching tight end Dennis Pitta. The Ravens, who also had interest in New England Patriots free agent Julian Edelman but have since moved on, also could draft a pass catcher in a deep wide receiver class.
"He used a lot of guys in his system, and I wanted to go into a system that I could be utilized but I could also benefit from other great players," Smith said. "I think Torrey Smith is going to be a fantastic player. They've got some [players] — Jacoby Jones, Ray Rice — they've got some guys that are already established. It takes a lot of pressure off of me, and I look forward to that."
Smith had his eyes on the Ravens the second that he was released. They are a perennial playoff team with a good mix of age and youth. Baltimore's close proximity to Charlotte — where the wide receiver lives — also factored, because Smith's wife is pregnant with the couple's fourth child. It also probably didn't hurt that the Ravens will play the Panthers during the 2014 regular season. Smith told a North Carolina radio station on Thursday that "there is going to be blood and guts everywhere," when he plays his former team.
However, he said that he made that statement yesterday "more tongue-and-cheek," and he harbors no ill feelings toward the Panthers.
"I'm not coming to Baltimore with any chip on my shoulder," Smith said. "I'm coming to Baltimore as Steve Smith."